Maine's database software incapable of analyzing how much Maine's gas stations are ripping off customers



  • http://bangordailynews.com/2011/10/02/business/maine-gas-stations-short-changing-customers-at-the-pumps-officials-say/

     AUGUSTA, Maine — In recent weeks, inspectors from the Department of Agriculture
    weights and measures unit have found several gas stations with pumps
    significantly shorting customers, but state officials can’t say if it
    is a trend because they are using a proprietary database system that
    greatly limits the ability to analyze the data collected by inspectors.

    “We had one large station with 12 nozzles and six were so far out of
    tolerance that we ordered them immediately shut down until they could
    be fixed,” said Hal Prince, director of the Department of Agriculture
    division of quality assurance and regulations. At another station an
    inspector found all of the pumps were delivering less gasoline than
    customers were paying for.

    “We usually find that one pump may be over-delivering a little while another is under-delivering a little,” he said. “It often roughly balances out.”

    But not when a pump operates up to seven times outside the allowable error tolerance. Prince said in that case his inspector figured for every 1,000 gallons of fuel sold consumers were losing about $2,300.

     ...

     

    Prince acknowledges the shortcomings of the system in use. He said the issue is one often faced in state government: lack of resources. The problem with the existing database system is it must be searched by entering the names of individual gas stations. It can’t be searched using criteria such as parent companies or violations.

    “It would be great to have a system that I could use to determine where to most efficiently use our inspectors,” he said. “Or to see if there are trends that we need to address. But we don’t have the resources to replace the system we have in place now.”



  • I'm guessing the database is not the problem, but:

    1) The shitty front-end they're using

    2) The fact that they don't have anybody competent in IT to run reports on the database directly

    (Note: it's entirely possible the database is the problem.)



  • @dookdookdook said:

     Prince said in that case his inspector figured for
    every 1,000 gallons of fuel sold consumers were losing about $2,300.

    Article fail?  Inspector fail?  Let's break that down... for every gallon of fuel sold, customers were losing about $2.30.  How much does fuel cost up there?



  • @Sutherlands said:

    @dookdookdook said:

     Prince said in that case his inspector figured for
    every 1,000 gallons of fuel sold consumers were losing about $2,300.

    Article fail?  Inspector fail?  Let's break that down... for every gallon of fuel sold, customers were losing about $2.30.  How much does fuel cost up there?

    You clearly didn't RTFA, did you?

    TFA

    [Edit: Not that I'm disagreeing with your assertion that the figures seem a bit off.]



  • Maybe they just can't be bothered (after all, the problem is in their favour) to hire someone to write additional reports for their over priced database system.

    Or perhaps they DO have a IT wizz-kid who thought up at the time "How much is SQL server?! I can WRITE a database for cheaper than that!" and management went with it... 

     



  • @Sutherlands said:

    @dookdookdook said:
    Prince said in that case his inspector figured for every 1,000 gallons of fuel sold consumers were losing about $2,300.

    Article fail?  Inspector fail?  Let's break that down... for every gallon of fuel sold, customers were losing about $2.30.  How much does fuel cost up there?

    Yeah, that seems crazy. I couldn't easily find anything about the allowed tolerance for Maine, but I found a report about Pennsylvania standards:

    How are fuel pumps tested for accuracy?

    State, county or city inspectors take a 5-gallon test sample from every grade of fuel on every pump, including diesel and kerosene. The 5-gallon test sample should contain 1,155 cubic inches of fuel. It cannot be off by more than +6 or -6 cubic inches.

    So, based on that, plus the information that pumps were up to 7 times the tolerance, we'd get 42 cubic inches, or about 0.18 gallons. At $3.59, that works out to about $0.13 per gallon (remember, this was for a 5 gallon sample), which translates to about $130 per 1,000 gallons. To get to $2.30 per gallon, they'd have to be somewhere around 735 cubic inches out of tolerance, or over 120 times the tolerance. Of course, Maine might have a much larger tolerance than Pennsylvania (15 times the tolerance in this case).

    OTOH, if you're getting less than half of a gallon per gallon measured by the pump, you'd save a lot of time per gallon pumped, and that's just like saving money.


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @Mole said:

    How much is SQL server?!
     

    Essentially free. Express Edition is fine for this application. Most likely what they have isn't a database at all, but some sort of idiotic binary flat file with an undocumented format delivered by a million dollar contract. 



  • @Mole said:

    Maybe they just can't be bothered (after all, the problem is in their favour) to hire someone to write additional reports for their over priced database system.

    Methinks you need to re-read this. The measurement errors favour the vendors. The useless database is owned by the regulators.



  • I wonder if it would be a breach of ethics if weight-and-measures inpectors decided to fill up after finding an out of tolerance gas pump that was distributing more fuel that it reported?



  • @pjt33 said:

    Methinks you need to re-read this. The measurement errors favour the vendors. The useless database is owned by the regulators.

    Indeed. My bad. 

     

    @frits said:

    I wonder if it would be a breach of ethics if weight-and-measures inpectors decided to fill up after finding an out of tolerance gas pump that was distributing more fuel that it reported?

     

    I'd say that was a perk of the job :)

     



  • @Sutherlands said:

    @dookdookdook said:

     Prince said in that case his inspector figured for
    every 1,000 gallons of fuel sold consumers were losing about $2,300.

    Article fail?  Inspector fail?  Let's break that down... for every gallon of fuel sold, customers were losing about $2.30.  How much does fuel cost up there?

    Yeah if customers were really losing that much, they be able to tell from the RIOTS long before the periodic inspection made its way to the station.



  • Perhaps they thought that their data fitted badly into the relational model and chose a more 'appropriate' datastore? </rant>



  • @Obfuscator said:

    Perhaps they thought that their data fitted badly into the relational model and chose a more 'appropriate' datastore?

    I think you're giving them too much credit.



  • @DaveK said:

    You clearly didn't RTFA, did you?

    [Edit: Not that I'm disagreeing with your assertion that the figures seem a bit off.]

    You posted a picture just to tell me the price per gallon, I guess?  Yeah, that wasn't really the point of my post, but whatever.


  • @boomzilla said:

    @Obfuscator said:
    Perhaps they thought that their data fitted badly into the relational model and chose a more 'appropriate' datastore?

    I think you're giving them too much credit.

    Waaay too much.

    "The database" is probably Filemaker, or Access, or something like FoxPro or perhaps, perhaps, MS SQL Server. The problem is the people working at the agency think the database is the front-end app they use to interface with it. If they had someone who knew IT on staff, they could have that person run reports for them. But they don't. So not only do they not have the reports, they don't even know it's possible to produce the reports.

    I saw this kind of thing a dozen times when I worked in healthcare.



  • @blakeyrat said:

    So not only do they not have the reports, they don't even know it's possible to produce the reports.
    QFT

    It always makes me laugh a little inside when the client gives me the "Oh, you can *do* that?!" look...  Especially when their in-house IT "gurus" were telling them for years it wasn't possible. 

    Come to think of it, these conversations almost always have something to do with either Excel or Access...



  • @blakeyrat said:

    @boomzilla said:
    @Obfuscator said:
    Perhaps they thought that their data fitted badly into the relational model and chose a more 'appropriate' datastore?

    I think you're giving them too much credit.

    Waaay too much.

    "The database" is probably Filemaker, or Access, or something like FoxPro or perhaps, perhaps, MS SQL Server. The problem is the people working at the agency think the database is the front-end app they use to interface with it. If they had someone who knew IT on staff, they could have that person run reports for them. But they don't. So not only do they not have the reports, they don't even know it's possible to produce the reports.

    I saw this kind of thing a dozen times when I worked in healthcare.

    Definitely too much credit. It's probably nothing more than an Excel spreadsheet with an input field that searches a specific column for exactly what was entered in, if it even has an input field. For all that we know, it's just a Word document. You know how non-IT people call EVERYTHING a database.



  • @C-Octothorpe said:

    It always makes me laugh a little inside when the client gives me the "Oh, you can do that?!" look...  Especially when their in-house IT "gurus" were telling them for years it wasn't possible.

    Yeah, the number of times where the correlation between customer-perceived and actual difficulty is inverse never ceases to amaze me. And not always due to technical issues, but simple business logic. As Raymond Chen is wont to say, "Let's imagine a world in which this was true..." I end up doing that all the time, though usually in a non-condescending way.



  • They're probably using MySQL. It's free, which is important for your bottom line.



  • @Power Troll said:

    They're probably using MySQL. It's free, which is important for your bottom line.

    Crazy (but awesome) thought: MUMPS! That would explain a lot.



  • @blakeyrat said:

    @boomzilla said:
    @Obfuscator said:
    Perhaps they thought that their data fitted badly into the relational model and chose a more 'appropriate' datastore?

    I think you're giving them too much credit.

    Waaay too much.

    "The database" is probably Filemaker, or Access, or something like FoxPro or perhaps, perhaps, MS SQL Server. The problem is the people working at the agency think the database is the front-end app they use to interface with it. If they had someone who knew IT on staff, they could have that person run reports for them. But they don't. So not only do they not have the reports, they don't even know it's possible to produce the reports.

    I saw this kind of thing a dozen times when I worked in healthcare.

    Eh, that part is pretty irrelevant.  Even when the media types are talking straight to the IT person involved in whatever event or concept is being discussed, they constantly try to boil down technological terms and such into 3 second bytes that they can package and ship.  And, knowing absolutely nothing about those terms, turns into crap like a GUI in visual basic that can track IP addresses.



  • Don't know if I'm being overly explainatory here, but I meant that with sarcasm, since I've seen my share of non-trivially-queriable NoSql and hobby datastores... :)



  • @blakeyrat said:

    @boomzilla said:
    @Obfuscator said:
    Perhaps they thought that their data fitted badly into the relational model and chose a more 'appropriate' datastore?

    I think you're giving them too much credit.

    Waaay too much.

    "The database" is probably Filemaker, or Access, or something like FoxPro or perhaps, perhaps, MS SQL Server. The problem is the people working at the agency think the database is the front-end app they use to interface with it. If they had someone who knew IT on staff, they could have that person run reports for them. But they don't. So not only do they not have the reports, they don't even know it's possible to produce the reports.

    I saw this kind of thing a dozen times when I worked in healthcare.

     

     

    Well, when was last in a State of Maine datacenter, they were running somewith with a BTrieve backend, on NetWare.

     



  • @Sutherlands said:

    @DaveK said:

    You clearly didn't RTFA, did you?

    [Edit: Not that I'm disagreeing with your assertion that the figures seem a bit off.]

    You posted a picture just to tell me the price per gallon, I guess? 

    How can you quote that stuff and then not notice what it says?  I posted a picture to demonstrate that you could not possibly have RTFA'd because if you had done, the very first thing you would have seen was a big photo that tells you the price per gallon. 

    @Sutherlands said:

    Yeah, that wasn't really the point of my post, but whatever.

    As I explicitly said, in the other part of my post that you quoted in reply but appear not to have read or comprehended.




  • @DaveK said:

    @Sutherlands said:

    @DaveK said:

    You clearly didn't RTFA, did you?

    [Edit: Not that I'm disagreeing with your assertion that the figures seem a bit off.]

    You posted a picture just to tell me the price per gallon, I guess? 

    Yes
    FTFY



  • Well-known mafia-run scam that local government are in on. Investigators have been rubbed out so as to keep the scam going.


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